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Tonight, a whole group of new names go up in lights for eternity. Some will forever add “Academy Award Winner” as part of their nomenclature, assuring more eyes paying attention when their faces hit the screen during trailers for the remainder of their careers. Belaboring too many formalities as we push toward the main course, here is Outkick’s official 87th Academy Awards preview. Along with my feelings, we’ll briefly discuss Bovada betting lines, provided to me by the man, the myth, the legend (that’s what he told me at least), Todd Furhman. Let’s get to it.
The top prize is always a relatively stacked category, with 2015 being no exception. That said, it’s a two-film race. Both of them start with “B” and both of them took ambition and ingenuity to new levels. As concepts, we may never see anything like either one of them again. Luckily, we got them both once.
Boyhood is the best film of the year, bar none. Lately, It’s being described as boring and too long and this and that. I really don’t care. Maybe it isn’t for everyone, but it was absolutely for me. This is the film Richard Linklater was created and put on this earth to helm. It takes the best conversational structures of Dazed and Confused, adds the angst of Slacker, and even some of the oddity of A Scanner Darkly to put together one complete opus. It took 11 years to make, not continuous of course, but is the very definition of a coming of age movie. We literally watched Ellar Coltraine (Mason Evans, Jr) grow up in front of us, alongside his sister Samantha, played by Richard’s daughter, Lorelei. If I had to make a list of five films to define the first 15 years of the century, Boyhood is on that list. It’s a perfect film, with an amazing soundtrack, another Linklater specialty, and in many ways, it moves past being a movie and just becomes a second life. I admit I’m less artsy in my taste, which does explain in some ways why Boyhood spoke to me so strongly. That, plus my extreme love of Dazed and Confused and the directorial mind of Richard Linklater, helped out mightily in that regard.
Then there’s Birdman, a film without artificial lighting and featuring obscenely long camera shots that would make True Detective jealous. The story of Riggan Thomson, typecast and known for playing a superhero, in some ways true to lead actor Michael Keaton himself post-Batman. Riggan is seen as washed up but desperately wants respect. He tries to earn it through a multi-faceted writing, directing, and starring role in his own Raymond Carver Broadway adaptation. Mentally, he’s definitely a little off, he’s jaded, and he lacks confidence. He also is semi-controlled by the voice of the Birdman superhero character he played decades earlier. The cast is loaded, Keaton in the performance of his life along with Edward Norton, fellow nominee Emma Stone, and great work from Naomi Watts among others. It’s a revelation as a motion picture. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu put together a masterpiece. It’ll be talked about for a long time and will be the subject of countless film school class assignments over the next century. It’s brilliant, no question. If it wins, I won’t be too upset.
The rest of the category is solid, but Best Picture is completely about these two films. They’ve both won their fair share during awards season. Looking at the odds over the past month, Birdman has all the momentum. That’s more interesting considering many thought it was dead after the stunning loss in the Outstanding Comedy category at the Golden Globes to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. But, since that point, it topped Boyhood at the Producers Guild of America Awards and has become the darling of the entertainment media, though it lost at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards to Linklater’s instant classic. If it weren’t for the BAFTA result, I’d be going the other way with my prediction. I’m far from confident, however.
This year, I’m about as unsure as I’ve been in a while respective to Best Picture. These were my number one and two films of the year, with Whiplash at 3. I’m sticking with what I believed would win months ago and not where the momentum is, but don’t forget above all its causes and all its false humility, what Hollywood loves the most, reveres the most, lives for the most, is itself. In that regard, Birdman is way ahead. That said, in many ways, Birdman exposes the pathetic side of Hollywood and those that cover it for a living, also the difficulty of a stage career. Both Birdman and Boyhood are outstanding, but the latter wins this thing by a thread. I’m going against Vegas.
MOVIE 1/15 Odds 2/18 Odds
Birdman 14/1 1/2
Boyhood 1/14 7/5
American Sniper 50/1 12/1
The Imitation Game 20/1 33/1
Selma 18/1 40/1
The Grand Budapest Hotel 12/1 50/1
Theory of Everything 25/1 66/1
Whiplash 50/1 66/1
WINNER: BOYHOOD (I’m second guessing it even as I write it.)
Most of the time, the director of Best Picture wins Best Director, but not always. This is a year that feels like both films deserve an honor. I may have it backwards, because more people are impressed with Boyhood as a concept first and a movie second. I’m equally impressed with both sides of that equation. Boyhood, because of the budget, because of the idea, because of the execution, means Inarritu could and probably will win in this category.
I’m partial to Linklater, but a split seems likely. I’m going with Inarritu to get his due for Birdman, though again, this award could go either way. It’s possible Birdman sweeps both. Certainly Boyhood could sweep both but I would doubt it. Even mainstream media personalities are moving rapidly to honor Birdman and slight Boyhood, but you won’t get that from me. That said, Inarritu, as Birdman’s scribe and its director, likely gets the nod here. Too bad both can’t win. Inarritu has made the most of his five feature films. 21 Grams was greatly underrated and Babel was just tremendous. Biutiful was another check mark, with Javier Bardem just destroying his role. Birdman is his first foray even into mild comedy. I just can’t wait to see where he goes next. He will win on Sunday.
DIRECTOR 1/15 Odds 2/18 Odds
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – Birdman 13/2 4/9
Richard Linklater – Boyhood 1/14 5/4
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel 25/1 33/1
Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher 25/1 50/1
Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game 25/1 50/1
WINNER: ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU (Birdman)
Here we have a category jammed with talent, where it might have been completely up in the air if no one was reading the tea leaves. It probably comes down to Keaton and Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Both walked away with Golden Globes in the split film acting categories, but here there can be but one winner, and that winner is going to be Redmayne.
It’s pretty much a travesty that David Oyelowo isn’t nominated for Selma. He was amazing and he absolutely should have been given the honor, even if the win was a longshot. I don’t buy the racism angle as the reason for the snub, but the demographics of the Academy don’t afford the group any benefit of the doubt.
As for what was nominated, all of it was worthy. Steve Carell may have delivered the best lead actor performance of the year in Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch’s work as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game was exceptional, and I can’t say enough good things about Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Chris Kyle in in American Sniper.
Another thing the Academy adores is roles of challenge and work reflecting affliction. Stephen Hawking’s ALS provided an opportunity for an actor who was willing to put his or her heart and soul into it, and Eddie Redmayne fit that bill perfectly. He’s been on the cusp since Les Miserables, but this si the one that puts him on the map permanently. It wasn’t an easy role to play, and while I still don’t necessarily think it was the best or even the second best in this category, I can’t complain too much because all five nominees as well as a few that didn’t make the cut all put forth special stuff.
Keaton, who we discussed earlier, killed it as Riggan Thomson. He should win, but won’t. He had tremendous screen time and he took advantage of every second. Unlike Redmayne, who in the back half of The Theory of Everything basically just had to tweak his work to add time and pain to the disease, Keaton had to evolve in a different way, but was tortured from the first second he was on screen. Carell will be forgotten in time, because Foxcatcher was tough to find in a lot of towns, but his metamorphosis into the batshit crazy, eccentric, dangerous John DuPont, was as good, if not better than anything else this year.
ACTOR 1/15 Odds 2/18 Odds
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything 1/1 1/4
Michael Keaton – Birdman 4/5 5/2
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper 33/1 12/1
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game 12/1 28/1
Steve Carrell – Foxcatcher 25/1 50/1
WINNER: EDDIE REDMAYNE (The Theory of Everything)
The rest of the acting categories don’t even feel like fair fights, so these portions of our preview will be quite short. Julianne Moore’s role of Dr. Alice Howland, a Columbia linguistics professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, marries an actress who should have won an Oscar in the past with a perfect affliction character. She was ridiculously good here. By the way, I’m not making the point of affliction characters lightly. It’s not a negative. They’re usually difficult roles, emotionally heart wrenching, and easy to fall head over heels for as an audience.
Nothing at all against the rest of the category, as Reese was great in Wild, Marion was really good in Two Days One Night, Rosamund Pike was terrifying in Gone Girl, and Felicity Jones was the other half of The Theory of Everything and deserved a nomination for an extremely solid portrayal as Jane Hawking. Julianne Moore is the class of the field, and she’s about to finally get her well-deserved due. It may not be her last Academy Award win, hopefully not. Here’s this year’s Jeff Bridges honor, deserved and “about time.” Five nominations and on Sunday, finally comes the victory for a brilliant performer.
ACTRESS 1/15 Odds 2/18 Odds
Julianne Moore – Still Alice 1/20 1/50
Reese Witherspoon â€“ Wild 10/1 12/1
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl 20/1 25/1
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything 20/1 40/1
Marion Cotillard – Two Days One Night 33/1 50/1
WINNER: JULIANNE MOORE (Still Alice)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Look, here’s the deal. This is a great category, nearly every year, but not since Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds has this award felt less dramatic than it does this year. This thing is a runaway. Edward Norton was awesome in Birdman as Broadway star Mike Shiner, but he isn’t winning this year. Mark Ruffalo, and for that matter Channing Tatum, were both astonishingly good in Foxcatcher, but no, not in 2015. Robert Duvall was great, as was Robert Downey Jr, in the Judge, a film which otherwise wasn’t particularly good. Ethan Hawke was necessary in Boyhood and he played Mason’s father with the kind of openness that role and that film required. He was very good. It ain’t happening.
This year is all about JK Simmons, who I first remember as Elizabeth Olivet’s replacement on Law and Order. He’s been a favorite for many years amongst many in my circle. Terence Fletcher was the best role of the year and Simmons was flawless. The film, inspired by the experiences of director Damien Chazelle’s past in a Princeton high school band, would win Best Picture in many years, but ran into two of the most strikingly daring movies in our lifetime. I feel Miles Teller was overlooked in The Spectacular Now and again in Whiplash. It was his misery and obsession that made Simmons’ overbearing instructor so much more real. This one’s really easy, just look at the odds. It’s what should happen. It’s what will happen.
ACTOR 1/15 Odds 2/18 Odds
JK Simmons – Whiplash 1/18 1/50
Edward Norton – Birdman 9/1 12/1
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher 12/1 16/1
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood 20/1 33/1
Robert Duvall – The Judge 33/1 33/1
WINNER: JK SIMMONS (Whiplash)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Take what I’ve said above and apply it here. The other actresses were very good, but Arquette had the best role and delivered the best performance. Boyhood was the film of the year and she had the difficulty, along with Hawke, but with more screen time, of playing a parent to the children, whose appearances changed so dramatically. It was easier to see their acting and character shifts because of it, but somehow Patricia’s maturity and growth as Mason and Samantha’s mother, through three failed marriages, her own college graduation, her career path as a professor, and empty nest syndrome – all of it felt like evolution. Linklater got everything exactly right with Boyhood, and casting Arquette was the biggest victory of all.
There is the Meryl Streep bullet, for the disappointing Into the Woods, but she has no momentum. Arquette has been the star throughout awards season and it isn’t going to change. Stone was excellent, Knightley was strong, Dern did great work, and then there’s Streep, but Arquette blew them all away. She’ll walk away with the hardware.
ACTRESS 1/15 Odds 2/18 Odds
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood 1/25 1/50
Emma Stone – Birdman 12/1 14/1
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game 20/1 25/1
Laura Dern – Wild 20/1 25/1
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods 25/1 25/1
WINNER: PATRICIA ARQUETTE (Boyhood)
Outside of the big six, just a few others I’d like to touch on briefly. The Imitation Game is 2/5 (as of February 18) to win Best Adapted Screenplay and I see no reason to doubt it. The rest of the category is pretty loaded, but nothing even close according to Bovada. The best chance would be Whiplash or The Theory of Everything. American Sniper is there too, but if the Academy can slight it, they will. In terms of Original Screenplay, Birdman could certainly win, but because The Grand Budapest Hotel is sitting there with nine nominations and no big wins, this could be the one. Boyhood is also in the mix, but this isn’t its strongest category, though it’s certainly worthy of consideration. I’ll take Imitation and Grand Budapest as your screenplay winners, with Birdman a strong contender in Original.
Snowden documentary CitizenFour, a 1/3 Bovada favorite, should win easily. It’s topical, Soderbergh was involved, Laura Poitras directed it precisely and intelligently, and it helped ignite an enormous story. It’s also terrifying and extremely well done. How to Train Your Dragon 2 will win Best Animated Feature and it’s an easy call because criminally, The LEGO Movie was snubbed. Not only should it have been nominated, it should have won. It’s like Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black at the Emmys…maybe not quite that bad, but in the discussion.
Give me Birdman for cinematography and Boyhood for film editing (think of how much film was actually edited there), John Legend and Common’s “Glory” for Best Original Song. I’d say Theory of Everything takes down Original Score with Birdman controversially not eligible after a failed appeal.
Two final things to point out, in addition to the shameless plug to follow me on Sunday @GuyNamedJason as I’ll be live tweeting the Oscars and commenting on the proceedings. NPH will do a great job as host, as he’s proven in other similar roles. He’ll do a song and it should be excellent.
The most overlooked and underappreciated movie of the year, which you probably didn’t see, will cost you around 15 bucks anywhere you’d like to pick it up. It’s called The Skeleton Twins and stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. It’s as black a comedy as Birdman. I don’t want to say more about it, except that you must go out of your way to see it. It was in my top seven for the year and other critics I know and speak with regularly agree with me. It never got past limited release in most areas, but it’s available now and I want you guys to check it out. Even as the huge Hader honk that I am, this effort deserves your attention.
Enjoy the Academy Awards. Live tweet with me @GuyNamedJason, let me know your thoughts before the show as well. I’ll be back with you on Tuesday with a review of this week’s Better Call Saul.
And the Oscar goes to…well, we’ll find out.
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